Lily Tuck Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Lily Tuck

Lily Tuck

An interview with Lily Tuck

Lily Tuck talks about her book, The News From Paraguay

You've never been to Paraguay but you spent your childhood in Peru and Uruguay and you spoke three different languages by the time you were ten years old. Can you talk about the effect South America had on you? Has living in other countries given you a perspective that perhaps staying in one place for a lifetime, which many great writers do, would not have given you?
My childhood, although not unhappy, was a solitary one. I was an only child and my parents had to move a lot - first from Germany, then France, then South America - to escape the war and persecution. This also meant that I had to change schools several times and learn different languages. The result of this, I think, is that I had to rely on my imagination for company and entertainment. It also forced me to read a lot.

I was very young when I lived in South America so my memories are quite vague and mostly associated with family events. However, I do remember the lushness and the bright colors in our garden - the color red especially stays in my head.

I feel certain that living in other countries has given me a different perspective as a writer. It has heightened my sense of dislocation and rootlessness. One of my favorite quotes is from the poet, Paul Celan, who writes: "In the air, that's where you roots are, over there, in the air." I think this feeling is reflected in my characters: most of them women, whose lives are changed by either a physical displacement or a loss of some kind. In addition, I like to write about places that people might not know a lot about as that, too, adds an element of strangeness and menace to the story.

What drew you to the subject of Paraguay in the mid-nineteenth century and the Lopez dynasty?
Originally what drew me was not the subject matter as much as the fact that I wanted to try to write a different kind of novel - a novel that was not based on personal experience - and a historical novel seemed like a good idea. (I have to add that I did not want to write a traditional historical novel, I wanted to try and make the form more contemporary.) Then I remembered how a long time ago, I had read about Ella Lynch and the dictator, Francisco Solano Lopez, and so I began to do the research. The research was fun and luckily, for me, there was not a huge amount of material on 19th century Paraguay in English so it seemed doable, at the same time that the paucity of material allowed me to use my imagination.

In your Author's Note, you quote a friend of yours who said, "Nouns always trump adjectives and in the phrase 'historical fiction,' it is important to remember which of the two words is which." Why is this quote important to you?
Ken Kesey, the writer, once said that "Art is a lie in the service of the truth." I agree. A story need not be true to be good or important, it need only point toward a recognizable or a universal truth - look at fairy tales and fables. I believe that one can achieve a more profound form of the truth through fiction. Also, for me, the beauty of a book lies in its language and in its imagination and not in its plot or its historical verisimilitude. I read not to be instructed but to be entertained, to be surprised, and, ideally, to be transported.

What were some of the constraints you felt writing a book about historical characters?
The biggest constraint to writing about these historical figures was that the two principals, Ella Lynch and Francisco Solano Lopez, were not "nice" people - they were in fact quite evil - yet I did not want to make them entirely loathsome as that would alienate the reader (and the writer!). This meant that I had to find a way that was honest to make their characters sympathetic on at least some level.

The other constraint was getting in all the facts - for the most part, little known historical facts about Paraguay and the War of the Triple Alliance - without making them appear as facts but as essential to the narrative flow.

What does The News from Paraguay winning the National Book Award mean to you as a writer?
It means recognition for my work and it makes me happy.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: A Great Reckoning
    A Great Reckoning
    by Louise Penny
    Canadian author Louise Penny is back with her twelfth entry in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache ...
  • Book Jacket: Homegoing
    Homegoing
    by Yaa Gyasi
    It's all very well to challenge people to be the masters of their own destiny, but when you&#...
  • Book Jacket: When Breath Becomes Air
    When Breath Becomes Air
    by Paul Kalanithi
    When Breath Becomes Air is the autobiography of Paul Kalanithi, written in the time period between ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Who Said...

We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

The Big Holiday Wordplay:
$400+ in Prizes

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.